Today in History, July 3: 1863 – Pickett’s Charge, the 3rd and last day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had assaulted the Union positions on the left and the right; today he ordered an artillery barrage and an all out frontal assault on the Union center on Cemetery Ridge, which seems to be prophetic. Gen. George Pickett and his superior, Gen. Longstreet had doubts, but when it looked as if the Yankees were retreating, they implemented Lee’s command. 12,500 rebels assaulted the ridge…to do so they had to climb over a fence and advance nearly a mile across open ground to reach the ridge…but the Union troops were not retreating, and they had held most of their cannon fire during the Confederate barrage.
The Union troops opened up with a fierce cannon barrage of their own, coupled with intense rifle fire. The few Confederates that reached the Union positions had left fully half of their brethren dead or injured on the field. After this massacre, Lee rode out onto the field, reassuring his men, “This has all be my fault”. It was not a self-pitying statement; it was reassurance to his adoring men that the failure was not theirs to carry. The ever resourceful Lee had to retreat, and Union Gen. Meade’s Army was in no shape to pursue. The Union lost 23,000 dead and wounded, the South 25,000+. It would be hard to say who “won” with those numbers, but i there was a winner, it was the Union. Lee and the South would never again be able to take the offensive against the North. On the 4th, Pickett wrote to his fiancee, “It is all over now. Many of us are prisoners, many are dead, many wounded, bleeding and dying. Your soldier lives and mourns and but for you, my darling, he would rather be back there with his dead, to sleep for all time in an unknown grave.”